Siegel, Gary. “Haskell Himself”, Acorn Publishing, 2020.
Who To Be?
Haskell Hodge is a sixteen-year-old former child actor and star of a popular cereal commercial. However, when he’s dumped at his aunt’s house in the suburbs of Los Angeles, he is faced with neighborhood bullies. He thinks he might be gay and that he might be the only gay person in the valley, even on the entire planet. He also thinks that if he does find a boyfriend, their relationship would have to be secret. Set in 1966 during the sexual revolution is in full swing, gay people do not have the same freedoms as straight people. As much as Haskell attempts to hide who he is, he’s still teased non-stop. Instead. Of giving into the hate, Haskell fights back and eventually finds a way to vent his frustration and angst by playing a bully in a screen test for a major film. This could make him a Hollywood star but at a high price that he’s not sure he’s willing to pay.
I could not help but love Haskell and cheer him on. His neurotic uncertainty over his identity immediately won me over. We read ofthe misery and frustration of being a person who is different. Haskell is coming-of-age in the middle of the sexual revolution and could very well have a career as an actor but he sees this as an inconvenience. He is filled with anger and has to deal with adolescence, protests against Vietnam and the Hippie revolution going on around him. He finds high school to be a living hell where he is constantly made fun of. It doesn’t help that he learns that was named after a Los Angeles freeway off ramp and his mother forces change on him.Being reassured by a fake psychic after he learns that his mother is sending him to live with his aunt, he begins to really live.
His gay sexuality made everything even more difficult. Haskell spends a lot of time trying to “drive the homo out of” and wonders if he is a freak. He always tries to please those around him even his absentee father, a producer of low-quality movies that rip off others’ work and make big bucks. Haskell’s own Hollywood connections bring him to the offer of a starring role as Demetrius Kapadopolus. His uncle Ted tries to help Haskell navigate both public high school after private school and into California after New York. However whatever good intentions his uncle has, his advice is lame and Haskell feels trapped. Once this is understood, Haskell prepares himself for whatever might lay in front of him as he moves forward, especially after his mother is no longer in his life.
The novel has the themes of coming of age, sexuality. identity and being gay in the 1960s when homophobia was rampant. The prose is filled with wit and sensitivity as is Haskell. We get both the light and dark side of Haskell’s conflicts. Here is a look at the 60s and the consequences of social conflicts facing young gay people as well as family conflicts and career priorities.
The story is relevant to today’s world. The gay community has come a long way since the 60’s, but there are still struggles to be faced and some of them are the same that Haskell faced. There were times that I felt that I actually knew Haskell since I came-out the same time as he did.
The book is filled with emotion and it is the physical and emotional highs and lows that will shape Haskell just as much as his external environment does. Haskell had to grow up too quickly and was in danger of losing himself in the process. I am anxious to see what else writer Gary Siegel has in store for us.